Malice@Doll is weird. That's the first thing anybody needs to know about this fully CGI Japanese production. If you've tried anime in the past and find you cannot stomach it in any of its many iterations, it may also be the last thing. However, if you're open to a somewhat jumbled and not always entirely coherent experience, you might find that you enjoy it.
Humanity is dust, but the robots still exist to serve it. They continue to perform their functions for masters who they acknowledge no longer live. This situation is especially difficult for the "dolls," prostitute robots. Malice is one such doll. She goes out every night, searching for clients she won't find. All of this changes when she's ravaged by a tentacle monster and wakes up the next day as a human being. Delighted by the new possibilities, she transfers the gift of flesh and blood to her robotic comrades with a single kiss. However, there is a darkness in each new transformation...
Malice@Doll isn't strictly a horror film. It isn't strictly anything. Comparisons to "Alice in Wonderland" aren't out of place; indeed, they are practically demanded. Obviously, there's elements of science fiction, but there's also a strain of fantasy that runs through the final ten minutes. With the elements of virulent sexuality, Malice@Doll has a lot in common with Shivers. However, David Cronenberg's presentation of nymphomania is antiseptic; here, it's often bizarrely pornographic.
The visuals take an adjustment period to fully appreciate. The common idea is that CG is very bright and color-saturated. Here, however, it is murky, painted in blacks, grays, and browns, with occasional shots of more distinctive colors for impact. The more metallic robots tend to meld with their backgrounds. The dolls have very realistic bodies, but standard-issue anime faces. Most disconcerting is the animation style - the characters are very jerky. Initially, this makes Malice@Doll look like another victim of low production values. Further inspection reveals that the stilted movement may be deliberate; it has much in common with the marionette work of Czech director Jan Svankmajer (who produced his own version of "Alice in Wonderland" in 1988).
Unfortunately, there's also an attempt to catch the surreality of Svankmajer's work that falls flat. The ending is recursive, a strange falling back to the beginning of the film, but with a different result that doesn't make much sense. Usually, I have no problem with this, if I believe that the filmmakers at least knew what they were saying. There was no indication of that here - it was weirdness for the sake of weirdness. Worse, it's weirdness that's supposed to be a satisfying conclusion to the film.
ArtsmagicDVD once again a great job compiling special features for a fairly obscure film. The film itself is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio and has both Japanese and English audio tracks (with optional English subtitles). Yukie Yamada, the Japanese voice of Malice herself, interviews director Keitaro Monotaga and writer Chiaki J. Konaka (anime fans will recognize that name from "The Big O" and "Van Hellsing"). Both are very proud of the film and speak at length about their inspirations and intentions. "Final Fantasies" is a speech given by Jonathan Clements (co-author of "The Anime Encyclopedia") about the history of CGI animation. Taped lectures are usually not that interesting, but Clements is very energetic and engaging, making this a feature worth giving a look.
After five minutes of Malice@Doll, I was ready to shut it off. After ten, I knew it had me sucked in. Though not the strangest film I have ever seen (Un Chien Andalou and Svankmajer's Faust tie for that distinction), it's up there. While dealing with the very human themes of purpose, love, and intolerance, it also touches ideas that exist just outside the sphere of experience. The combination of everyday worries and fantastic concepts make Malice@Doll a difficult film to ignore.
Editor's Note: You can buy Malice@Doll directly from ArtsMagic.